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After shocking incidents, Chinese struggle to instill kindness

How do you turn Bad Samaritans good?

The question has become a national obsession since the shocking death of a 2-year-old named Yueyue who was ignored by 18 passersby as she lay bleeding on the street after a hit-and-run last month in southern China.

Nearly every day brings a new outrage — an 88-year-old man suffocating in his own blood after falling and breaking a nose, people rushing to photograph a suicide attempt without bothering to help — and another hand-wringing editorial about how to cultivate the kindness of strangers.

The latest example came Wednesday, when a 5-year-old boy playing on a sidewalk was struck by a wooden beam that had fallen from a construction site in the city of Linyi in the eastern province of Shandong. His mother begged motorists and bystanders to help bring him to a hospital, but all refused — including the chengguan, low-level municipal police, who drove by and ignored her, according to local media.

An ambulance eventually arrived, but the boy, named Longlong, died on his way to the hospital.

"With Little Yueyue just departed," one outraged commentator wrote Thursday on the Sina Weibo microblog, referring to the 2-year-old girl, "what happened to Little Longlong again raises questions about people's morals and conscience."

In almost every province, laws are being revised to indemnify Good Samaritans against being sued if their efforts fail — one of the main reasons Chinese say they are reluctant to get involved.

Groups with names such as China Kindness and Filial Piety Special Committee and the Office of National Spiritual Civilization have launched special projects to encourage better behavior.

"Trust is one of the hottest topics at the moment," said Wu Yilin, a pollster at Beijing's Renmin University of China. Her department has been surveying people about the degree to which they would help a total stranger. In a poll shortly before the hit-and-run, 64.8% of Chinese said they would help an elderly stranger who had fallen, with those refusing saying they feared getting into trouble.

"We in China are very close to our parents and our families, but there is no trust in strangers," Wu said.

The lack of charitable spirit in China is supported by a poll released in April by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Based on polling data from Gallup, it shows China second from the bottom in a list of 40 countries ranked for "pro-social behavior": giving to charity, volunteering time and helping strangers.

Only Greece had a lower ranking. The United States tied with Ireland at the top of the list.

In China, pundits cast about to point the blame. Has the frenetic pursuit of wealth in the go-go economy eroded the values that the Communist Party once instilled about individual sacrifice for the greater good? Or does the blame lie with the Communist Party's repression of religion and the legacy of brutality of the Cultural Revolution?

On Friday, the Shanghai Daily ridiculed the Chinese government's various initiatives to make people more charitable.

"Official canonizing of moral models, sometimes ridden with money-for-honor frauds, is the last thing we need," bemoaned the English-language daily. "At a time when the nation is obsessed with sloganeering about honesty … dishonesty is still a plague."

New details have emerged in recent days about another incident Oct. 13, the same day as the little girl's accident. This one happened in Hangzhou, a lakeside resort near Shanghai, where an expatriate pulled a suicidal Chinese woman out of the lake.

The rescuer, Maria Fernanda Gomez Arregui, a Uruguayan who lives in Shanghai, complained that Chinese bystanders were busy taking photographs, not stepping forward to help even as she struggled to drag the woman up an embankment from the lake.

"Somebody was filming with an iPad. Nobody was helping me. I can't understand that," Gomez Arregui said in a telephone interview.

In an effort to encourage other good Samaritans, a civic group in Hangzhou announced Wednesday that it would give Gomez Arregui an award amounting to $472 for her heroism.

"Now they are calling me a hero," Gomez Arregui said. "It was, to me, completely normal."

In recent weeks, photos have surfaced about another foreigner who helped a middle-aged woman who had been stabbed by her mentally ill son in Shanghai's Pudong airport in April. A video shows a man who appears to be in his 20s with a backpack squatting over the woman and trying to staunch the bleeding while others in the crowded international arrivals hall walk by or stare. The woman survived and afterward put out a call to thank the unidentified foreigner, but he was never identified.

The issue of callousness has become a viral topic of discussion in China since the hit-and-run last month in Guangdong province. A closed-circuit videotape shows in stomach-churning detail the girl being struck by two delivery vans, as well as the 18 people who either walk or drive by without helping.

On the flip side, state media have gone out of their way to publicize morality tales showing the heroism and generosity of ordinary Chinese.

One video that captured the public's attention shows people banding together in a Shanghai park Oct. 23 to help a pregnant woman who fainted. The video shows the group carrying her and flagging down a motorist who volunteers to drive her to the hospital.

"Ever since Little Yueyue left this world, people started to question the consciences. Some even said Chinese no longer have morality," a caption reads on the video. "Here, people with their actions showed that Chinese still have a heart.... Let's be proud of Shanghai and of the Shanghai people."

The problem is, it didn't really happen that way.

Last week, the head of a Shanghai film production company held a news conference and acknowledged that three of his employees had staged the fall-and-rescue in what he described as a "beautiful lie."

"What they did was inappropriate, but their intentions were good," said Zhang Jun of Erma China. "They thought if people saw this on television it would set an example about how they should behave in a warmhearted way when something happens."

barbara.demick@latimes.com

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